My uncle pointed up at the twinkling lights in the dark Kentucky night sky and said, “There he goes back to the North Pole.” And that was it. I believed. I'd just met Santa at the mall and there he was in the sky, flying home with my Christmas wish still warm in his ear.
For years after, that memory would keep the faith alive in my heart. He was real. I saw him flying in the sky. Of course it was a plane, but it was Santa's sleigh, it was, it was, it was his sleigh with all his reindeer. Until one day it wasn't. It couldn't be. It was just a plane.
I wonder what it is keeping Santa alive for my kids now. It's definitely not me.
I have been phoning in the Santa thing since the beginning. I've never actually told my kids he's real. Teachers and Christmas movies have introduced them to the lore and I've gone along with it, preferring the Socratic method of Santa parenting.
Them: "How does Santa visit all the houses in the world in one night?"
Me: "How do YOU think he does it?"
Them: “Does he really have a naughty list?”
Me: “What do you think?”
I don't give Santa credit for presents either. The year we got Elliott a Wii and opened the door to video games from whence he’s never returned, he looked up from the box and asked, “Who’s this from?” And I asked, “Do you have a guess?” He thought for a second, then blurted decisively, “Daddy.” Good guess, son, cuz it certainly wasn’t Mommy.
My kids decided on their own that Santa must handle the stockings and maybe he uses the wrapping paper we already have, which is why it’s always the same kind I use. They think of everything. No matter how lazy I am, they manage a workaround. Their suspension of disbelief is breathtaking.
My oldest came to us at nine years old firmly denying the existence of Santa and part of me actually hoped she'd spill the truth to the other two, but she's been shockingly reticent about the whole thing, even acquiring a damn elf and moving him around, to the delight of her siblings. Although her elf is a little sketchy, moving three times in one evening then remaining frozen in place for four days in a row. Whatever. You try being at the mercy of a forgetful teenager. He's probably reporting back to Santa that his young handler is guilty of reckless abandonment.
So for my two youngest, the Santa charade continues unabated. I love childhood whimsy as much as the next Narnia-obsessed Potterhead, but the older my kids get, the sloppier I get.
Them: Mom! We didn’t sit on Santa’s lap this year! What if he doesn’t know what we want?!
Me: Oh. Right. Is … that something you want to do?
They're smart. I wonder if they actually figured it out a while ago but resolutely refuse to give any inkling for fear the presents will disappear. What do they think will happen if they pull back the curtain? Everything might vanish. They might become as lame as their parents.
Part of me knows that once they figure it out it’s over, and we can never go backwards and that part of childhood is closed. Sniff, tear. But the other part of me is sick of the glittery packets of reindeer food and ready to be done with this magical list that a bearded stranger with deep pockets is supposed to deliver in full.
We're engaged in a game of chicken, me and my kids, heading directly at each other, and neither of us is willing to steer away. They won't yield to the common sense they feel creeping up their back and I refuse to be the one to shatter their childhood, and so we just keep careening towards each other in the worlds’ longest staring contest.
Them: blink blink
Me: blink blink blink … Who wants cookies?!
Maybe another year. We still have time. Maybe one more year before a sleigh in the sky becomes just another plane.